The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll is a crazy, wild ride from start to finish. It’s part suspense, murder mystery, commentary on reality TV culture, with complicated women dynamics all rolled into a unique read. This one lives up to the hype and more.
As I mentioned in my preview, Knoll says she was inspired to write The Favorite Sister from watching the Real Housewives shows on Bravo. While the shows are entertaining in their own ridiculous way, Knoll brings up an interesting point. Yes, there’s catfighting, pettiness but they also exhibit strong personalities, which is something we rarely see with women in media.
While many of the women in The Favorite Sister do terrible things—they all believe it’s essential to their own survival. Expect one cast member does not make it out alive.
Let’s take a closer at narrative and major themes (spoiler-free, I promise).
In their own voice
This story structure really lends itself well to have different perspectives, especially since there’s a murder involved. It makes the reader wonder who’s an unreliable narrator and who’s hiding something. The book starts off in present day. Kelly is a cast member and she’s being interviewed about her sister’s (and fellow cast member) Brett’s death. We know that Kelly isn’t completely innocent but we don’t know how she’s involved. The story then gives us the perspective of Brett and Stephanie, another cast member, before Brett’s death a year ago. The narrative alternates between these different perspectives and timelines. As you read it, pay close attention because Knoll leaves a trail of bread crumbs that will all lead to who do it and why. But you’ll still be shocked at what happens.
So unlike the Real Housewives, the fictional reality TV series, Goal Diggers, was originally designed to show empowered self-made millennial women. But while it aspired to showcase feminism and sisterhood, it didn’t make for good ratings so it instead the show pits the women against each other in a cutthroat environment. And to maintain relevancy, the women are all too eager to join in. They play along with whatever storyline the producers come up with many of it being embellished by their own behavior among each other. It’s not completely fiction but it’s still not real. Lying and deception is a major theme in this read. Each character lies about something at any given time.
Maybe it’s not much different from people’s highlight reels on social media that are full of false perceptions. No one wants to show the bad days but instead try to paint a picture of perfection. But perfection is not real for anyone. Yet everyone always wants to protect the identity they’ve cultivated out to others.
Feminism is a complicated subject. Some proudly declare themselves one, while others don’t. In the book, Knoll ponders the line between feminism, support of sisterhood and wanting to be the best at what you do. If you’re competing with another woman for a job, or a spot on a TV show, are you still a feminist?
While women have banded together in recent years, there’s still the messy topic of the behind the scenes mistreatment that can happen among women. I had a friend tell me once she feels women in the workplace are the absolute worst to each other, way more than a man could be. Is that a result of a culture that pits women against each other? That’s also explored in the book.
As you can see, there’s a lot going on in this read. But there’s also some interesting tidbits about filming reality TV. In this article on Entertainment Weekly, Knoll discusses what’s real and fiction when it comes to the reality TV show process.
In conclusion, this book will make you think.
If you’ve read it, let me know your thoughts!